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If Brian T. Egan’s clients need to reach him, they might just as well drop by his office on Main Street in Patchogue, N.Y., than call him on the phone. After all, why bother dialing him up when they can see him face-to-face on their way to the bagel shop or the hardware store? This immediate accessibility, before clients’ legal difficulties can “spiral out of control,” is part of what Egan, a partner with Pelletreau & Pelletreau in Patchogue, likes about his hometown practice, he said. At 29, he is working in the same village where he grew up. Bayville attorney Jerald J. DeSocio, 49, also has scheduling challenges at his main street general practice, which he calls his “country store” located on the only corner with a traffic light in Bayville. A general practitioner, he, too, grew up in the community where he works, as opposed to opting for large-firm life ensconced in steel and glass. While his office, too, has a “c’mon in” component, he said he takes a gentle, but firm approach to folks stopping by to get immediate legal advice or just to chat. Often, he is forced to ask them to wait or to make an appointment. “It’s hectic,” DeSocio said. But he added, “Part of the charm of a local practice is that people feel they can walk in and you’re there.” He explained that one hometown client said that he felt “safer” seeing the attorney’s light on if he happened to drive by the office at night. Huntington attorney Jacqueline Caputi, 42, not only decided to practice in the town where she grew up but also joined her father, Robert Caputi, in his practice, Caputi Weintraub & Neary. Caputi explained that when she first began practicing with her dad, most of the drop-in visits were to see him, as opposed to those interested in consulting with “the kid.” Since 2001, Caputi has been with Munley, Meade, Nielsen & Re, also in Huntington. These lawyers said they decided to establish their practices close to home because they wanted to stay tied to their communities. They also explained that understanding the history of their clients makes them better lawyers. “The clich� is ‘networking,’” said Alan Todd Costell, chair of Suffolk County Bar Association’s solo and small firm practitioners committee. “If you practice in an area where you grow up, you have a commitment to the community and they [clients] give it back to you.” THE GO-TO CITIZENS General practice lawyers in small communities have a unique set of client challenges, said attorney Jay G. Foonberg, author of “How to Start and Build a Law Practice.” His book, published by the American Bar Association, is in its fifth edition. Foonberg, who practices in Santa Monica, Calif., conducts several nonprofit seminars each year across the country to teach lawyers how to launch and maintain their own firms. He said that he routinely hears concerns from small-town lawyers, who feel pressured by drop-ins to deliver a variety of legal advice before they are fully prepared to give it. Critical for attorneys, especially young lawyers eager to establish their reputation as the go-to citizen in their towns, is to resist the temptation to provide quick fixes, he said. “It certainly puts a pitch on your time,” Egan said. “You lay out a nice, constructive afternoon and then you get five or six visits.” But he maintains that the “walk-ins welcome” aspect of his practice is a benefit to him and the clients. Because they feel at ease to step into his office when their problems first arise, his job is easier, he said. Conflicts are fresher, details are clearer and resolutions are quicker. And it is not just shop talk that the community seeks from its local lawyer, Foonberg explained. He said that residents expect the lawyers in their towns to have opinions on just about everything, from politics to popular eateries. Small-town attorneys play leadership roles in their communities, and local residents generally are not shy in approaching them, he said. DeSocio agreed. He explained that trips to the local grocer for a bag of cat food can easily turn into 20-minute discussions with fellow shoppers who are also clients. Often, they may want to discuss the specifics of their cases. A published phone number also makes him easily accessible to the community, he said. As he plans to open a second office with another attorney in Suffolk County, DeSocio said he has mixed feelings about dividing his attention between the new location and his Bayville practice, with its small-town feel. Surprising to Egan, however, is the respect for his privacy when he is at home in Patchogue. “I didn’t expect that,” he said. “I thought I would have more people knocking at the door.” Yet despite this privacy at home, Egan explained that working in a small town personalizes the wins, or losses, for attorneys because they see the immediacy of their results. But that immediacy is not always positive, asserted Foonberg, the author. Small-town gossip, he said, means that almost as soon as the client walks out of the attorney’s office any bad news will spread. For lawyers who make a mistake, the entire town will know about it, he said. Caputi said she receives fewer impromptu visits from townsfolk these days for two reasons. First, her office on New York Avenue is a bit off “the beaten path” in Huntington, she said. Second, her job is concentrated on municipal and zoning matters. She said that while her practice is very involved in issues affecting the local community, the absence of general, bread-and-butter work reduces the drop-by visits. Despite the differences in their practices, these attorneys said that job satisfaction — a feeling of truly helping people from their own communities — outweighs any difficulties. DeSocio, who came from a big family in Bayville, said one of the first questions he asks potential clients in the community is the year they graduated from the local high school. “The connection is there usually in minutes,” he said. “That’s what the local practice is all about.”

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